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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Puffy Amiyumi

Swifty: Posting for Justin.

Puffy or Puffy Amiyumi

I'm hesitant to post about Puffy (or 'Puffy Amiyumi' as they're now known, so as not to piss off P-Diddy) because I fear adding more shit to the heap. In case you haven't been paying attention, Puffy did what no other J-pop act (including Hikki) has been able to pull off: they got big in America. Okay, this is relative big we're talking about, but the average teen is at least likely to have heard of them. Granted, they cheated, getting recognition through an English-language cartoon show which, although Puffy or Puffy Amiyumifeaturing their music and (vague) likenesses, has only a tenuous connection to their actual Japanese personas. Anyway, I hate them now because they sold out (just kidding, 'selling out' doesn't make sense in any conceivable way applied to j-pop; it's like criticizing an orange for being, um, orange...).

Puffy were one of the first J-pop acts I got into, and their early stuff had a big effect on me. My last post was about Nanase Aikawa, and it's interesting to draw parallels between Puffy and Nanase. Both started out with images that contravened conventional J-pop iconography (i.e. they weren't portrayed as pornographic children, in essence) and both came to rely on semi-unknown American rockers to write their songs. While Nanase came off as a black-clad tough girl years before Nakashima Mika's turn in NANA, Puffy were plainclothes popstars, dressed down and 'quirky' (they had their own variety show and talked about Basquiat. That's like Destiny's Child saying how much they admire the runny eggs and cannibalism in Dali paintings). And while Nanase picked up Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman to add shred, Puffy's 'godfather' was Andy Sturmer, a founding member of Jellyfish.

Anyway, they put out some great music. The 'NICE' album is just about flawless, and their earlier J-stuff was good, too. I'm pretty disappointed that I'm compelled to hate them now for being 'too big.' In my opinion Puffy's best song remains their debut single, 'Ajia no Junshin'. What to watch for in this video, apart from the shitty production, is that Ami and Yumi LOOK LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE. Hell, by Tokyo standards, they're even pretty uncool. They could be your junior high school friend's older sisters, the ones you don't actually have any interest in. NotPuffy or Puffy Amiyumi surprisingly, they're more made up in the American show's live-action segments featuring them. Their videos have also picked up budgets. It isn't the same, and you don't get to see why their act was so unconventional at the time, especially by Japanese industry standards.

Still, 'Ajia no junshin' is a great song. It's got some ABBA, some ELO, a bit of everything. But then, their entire catalogue is like that, perhaps even moreso under Sturmer: not so much derivative as a kind of collage-music, bits of other records chopped verbatim into the mix, or else backing tracks stolen note-for-note. They were doing mashups before anyone had thought of the term. In other words, you don't have to listen to the more pretentiously indie Cornelius or Pizzicato 5 to get a taste of the way J-music cuts up the fabric of Western pop like a FunDips-snorting Burroughs with safety scissors.

It's a great song.

I'm really sorry for the Burroughs analogy.